It looks like those Kate Middleton conspiracy theories were catnip for the Russian disinformation campaign known as Doppelgänger.

According to British security experts, this “Russia-based influence operation network” attempted to sow discord about the Princess of Wales’ “disappearance” ahead of her cancer announcement on March 22. Based on a new NBC News report, researchers at the Security, Crime, and Intelligence Innovation Institute at Cardiff University claim at least 45 accounts posting about Middleton on contained Dopplegänger “hallmarks,” including pro-Russia and anti-Ukraine content on their feeds.

Still, institute director Martin Innes says it’s unlikely that Russian interlopers sparked the speculation about Middleton’s health and whereabouts. The internet grew concerned for the princess after the palace announced the 42-year-old mother of three underwent “planned abdominal surgery” in January and would be taking a step back from royal duties. Between vague palace updates and a confusing photo editing scandal involving Middleton, the public began to doubt the royal family’s honestly, eventually causing fringe theories to make their way into mainstream programming, including a shoutout on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.

Innes shared that “#KateGate” had over 14 billion TikTok views in just one month, which could not all be attributed to Russian accounts. “It’s not as though these Russia-linked accounts were driving the story; they were jumping on it,” Innes told NBC News. “It was already being framed in conspiracy terms, so foreign actors don’t need to set that frame — that’s already there to exploit.”

According to Sander van der Linden, a psychology professor at the University of Cambridge, #KateGate was “a perfect cocktail in terms of the things that you need for conspiracy theories to thrive.”

Okay, but it’s not like the royal family is running for re-election, so what was the goal? “It’s about destabilization,” Innes said. “It’s about undermining trust in institutions: government, monarchy, media—everything. These kinds of stories are ideal vehicles by which they do that.”

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